Mobile stalkerware detections are rising faster in the UK than globally, according to new stats revealed by Kaspersky ahead of International Women’s Day (IWD).

The security firm claimed the number of users targeted by these malicious surveillance apps jumped 91% from 2018 to 2019, while the global figure was 67%.

Worldwide, the number of victims detected by Kaspersky rose from 40,386 to 67,500 over the period, although this is likely to be just a snapshot of the total.

Stalkerware is a class of malicious software often labelled by nefarious developers as a legitimate way of monitoring teens and children, such as the Monitor Minor tool. However, in reality it is often used by stalkers, domestic abusers and violent ex-partners to threaten and intimidate women.

Kaspersky divides the category into two types of software: trackers, which intercept victims’ text messages and monitor location data, and full-fledged stalkerware, which has extensive spying capabilities.

“They can harvest almost any data on a compromised device: photos (both entire archives and individual pictures, for example, taken at a certain location), phone calls, texts, location information, screen taps (keylogging), and so on,” it explained in a report last month.

“Many apps exploit root privileges to extract messaging history from protected storage in social networking and instant messaging applications. If it cannot gain the required access, the stalkerware can take screenshots, log screen taps and even extract the text of incoming and outgoing messages from the windows of popular services using the Accessibility feature.”

The problem is becoming so acute that a new industry body, the Coalition Against Stalkerware, was launched in November last year by AV vendors and anti-domestic violence groups.

“Together with our partners from the Coalition Against Stalkerware, we want to combine forces and our expertise to work towards putting an end to violence, especially against women, that is enabled by emerging technologies and our ever-connected lifestyles,” argued Christina Jankowski, senior external relations manager at Kaspersky.

“Our goal is to ensure that all those affected receive knowledge to protect themselves against digital stalking, and the support they need if they find themselves victims.”

IWD takes place this year on Sunday March 8.

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